Long live the indomitable spirit of the Greatest, Muhammad Ali! He was not only the king of boxing but he’s clearly eclipse the arena of boxing as well as all other professional sports. Muhammad Ali’s personality and profile took off like a rocket and soared into the heavens as he became a cultural icon when he decided to use his celebrity as Heavy Weight Champion to speak to national, international, and cultural issues. He possessed the rare integrity to choose principle over wealth; speak uncompromizing truth to power; and stand up for the denied rights of his people. Muhammad Ali was an invaluable example of proud young black manhood. He came along and suddenly made us stop feeling ashamed of our skin color, natural appearance, and hold our heads up and be proud of our black selves when he boldly proclaimed that he was just too fast, too pretty and impossible to ever be defeated in the boxing ring.
Shortly after he’d defeated Sonny Liston to capture the Heavyweight Crown in February of 1964, he shocked America by changing his name from Caches Clay to Muhammad Ali. It was the name given him by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, a black nationalist’s religious group that he’d recently joined. Of course, he faced a litteral fire-storm of vicious criticism from white America and nearly all of the middle classed blacks as well. There were even some boxers like Floyd Patterson and Ernie Terrell who’d refused to acknowledge his new name, but he made them pay dearly for disrespecting him, when he’d gotten them in the ring. When Muhammad Ali refused induction into the U.S. Army on the grounds of his religion as a conscientious objector, and his refusal to war against other poor people of color in the name of a hypocritical America while she simultaneously held his own people in virtual slavery, white America as well as most of the middle class blacks went ballistic. He was immediately stripped of his boxing title; denied the right to box in America; and his passport was also taken. Consequently, Ali was deliberately denied the right to make a living in his own profession, while his fortune was steadily being drained as he battled in court to appeal a five year jail sentence because of his refusal of military service.
Finally, by 1970, the great majority of young Americans had sided with Muhammad Ali against the Vietnam War and their protest throughout the nation had the Nixon administration literally on the ropes. In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court finally decided to confirm Ali’s legal status as a conscientious objector to the war and restored his right to box. However, those four years of enforced absence from the ring had cost Ali tremendously in lost fortune and deminished boxing skills. Yet and still he returned to the ring and was defeated for the first time by Joe Frazier in 1972. However, just two years later, Ali captured his title for the second time, against all odds and shocking the world a second time, by defeating George Forman in October 1974. Later, he won the Heavyweight crown for a third time when he defeated Leon Spinks.
All and all, Muhammad Ali was certainly not a perfect man because he definitely had his faults, but he certainly was perfect in terms of his courage, faith in his God and devotion to his principles. Dr. Martin Luther King once commented, “You may disagree with Mr. Muhammad Ali’s religion, but you have to admire his courage!” Ali had actually come out against the Vietnam war even before Dr. King, himself had, in April of 1967, a decision which would cost him his own life exactly one year later. Muhammad Ali definitely set a critical moral and ethical example for black people and all oppressed people in the whole world that will never be surpassed. Why? Simply because unlike professional athletes since, he wasn’t just a champion in his sport, he was a true champion of his people in particular and true champion of humanity in general. He was more concerned with right than ridicule; love for his people than just love for himself only; and certainly more concerned with moral and ethical principles than being a proper Negro and a slave to petty politics.